Scapegoating the 'Israel Lobby'

Last week, after the Chas Freeman withdrew his name from consideration to be the next head of the National Intelligence Council, Mickey Kaus summarized the lack of newspaper coverage of the controversy, "You Know This Guy We Haven't Told You About? Well, He's Not Going to Be Important!"

From the time that Freeman was appointed until he withdrew backed out there was precious little coverage of his nomination. Doug Jehl, an editor of the New York Times explained that he considered only the campaign against Freeman to be newsworthy, and so his publication only covered the nomination once the campaign was successful.
The lack of reporting about the appointment led many, including the nominee himself to denounce the supporters of Israel who opposed his nomination. This lack of scrutiny and the boasting of some of Freeman's opponents, such as Senator Schumer, don't prove the case.

There were a number of reasons to oppose Freeman's nomination in addition to his hostility towards Israel. For example, he supported the Chinese government's crackdown against protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989. (Freeman claims that he was only presenting the dominant view at the time. The problem is that in the subsequent paragraph, Freeman wrote , "I do not believe it is acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government, however appealing to foreigners their propaganda may be.")

In fact, when Newsweek reported on his withdrawal from consideration, it emphasized the opposition of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who is close to the Chinese pro-democracy movement.

The Washington Post in reporting on Freeman's withdrawal, managed to list every single person with a Jewish name who opposed Freeman, but also noted that the opposition to Freeman on Capitol Hill really increased after the NIC's Inspector General started looking into Freeman's financial dealings.

Yes there was a lot of opposition in pro-Israel circles to the Freeman nomination. But there was just as much support for Freeman among those who are critical of Israel. Given that the former group came mostly from those who didn't vote for President Obama, it's hard to see why their views would hold much sway with the administration. And given the lack of coverage of the nomination, there was no popular opposition to it from the general electorate. How then did the pro-Israel crowd sink the nomination? There was no way for the opposition to gain traction within the administration.

Furthermore, there is no indication that administration asked Freeman to withdraw. No media outlet picked up murmurings of dissatisfaction from within the administration. Freeman seems to have withdrawn from consideration on his own.

So why would he do that? The timing of the withdrawal suggests that Freeman was concerned with what the inspector general would uncover about his financial dealings with Saudi Arabia and China. Newsweek had reported that the Middle East Policy Council that Freeman headed had received quite a bit more money from Saudi Arabia than previously acknowledged. Freeman himself, in an interview credited King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for keeping the MEPC financially viable. Freeman also sat on the board of the China National Offshore Oil Corporation. Once the inspector general had completed his investigation of Freeman these ties would have been fully exposed.

So why did Freeman and his defenders blame the Israel lobby? Conspiracies make great copy. But if one looks at the administration's approach to the Middle East during its first few weeks, there were precious few decisions that make the pro-Israel crowd happy.

For example, recently Secretary of State Clinton announced a $900 million aid package to rebuild Gaza. Despite her assurances there's no way that Hamas won't benefit. The United States also participated in planning sessions for the upcoming UN conference on racism. While the administration eventually withdrew, pro-Israel activists had cautioned against participating at all.

Recently, in three major areas, precisely one result has gone the way of the all-powerful Israel lobby. Perhaps the lobby isn't nearly as formidable as its critics contend.

David Gerstman blogs at
Soccer Dad.
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